Last year we had the privilege of driving a European specced M5 in beautiful Andalusia, Spain and were more than impressed. On the Ascari racetrack the DCT equipped M5 was more than capable but felt overly heavy and too big to be tracked regularly. So how can what seems to be a less than intimate car become more engaging and enjoyable?
By featuring a third pedal on the floor and a stick on the console that allows drivers freedom to choose whatever gear they want, whenever they want it. Last week at Laguna Seca we dusted off our driving shoes for some heel-toe love and were shocked by what we found.
We questioned the rationale of BMWNA bringing the M5 in a manual when it was announced earlier this year because there are so few that would check that no-cost option box and the M5′s current size makes a manual seem out of place on the track or the street. Not to mention the clientele of this car. Who wants to be stuck in traffic trying to shift gears with colleagues or prospective business partners questioning why you don’t have an automatic (what are you poor or something?).
We were wrong on some levels. Yes, we just ate crow.
The six speed manual box is in basic form the same as that in the 550i. It has heavy duty upgrades for the hydraulics and friction surfaces making it able to withstand the abuse the 560hp S63Tü V8 deals out. To our surprise the bloody thing automatically matches revs. Going into the first turn after pit out as we were amidst some heel toe magic the car did it much better than we could have on its own. The rev-match occurs for all downshifts (and double de-clutch downshifts) from gears 5 to 1, except when SPORT+ engine mode is selected. As M fans know, SPORT+ is where the fun lies but it is now also the “blip it yourself” mode.
The throws are a bit long but the engagement and action are crisp and precise. It is far less notchy than the box in the current M3, and the shift from 1-to-2 doesn’t require that slight hesitation to have a clean shift. The clutch pedal is light but the take up is what we’ve become accustomed to in M variants. The rev matching is so good that you can flake out and shift mid corner without disrupting the chassis- It can happen, especially when you drive countless laps in a DCT then switch rides.
The M5 has historically been the bad boy sedan, the sleeper race car for those that want speed, luxury, four doors and a real back seat. Those qualities remain for the most part with the current car but the level of driver involvement and increases in refinement have most certainly changed. As the 5 Series has grown, the intimacy with road has decreased partly because of the size but mostly because of the weight.
In Europe the M5 makes perfect sense on the high speed autobahns; it is luxurious, comfortable and is as fast as schnell. It is the original “Bahnburner.”
Where the waters get murky is in the US, where it is not even equipped with adjustable side bolsters (huge let down). Thanks to low speed limits and the notion that most owners will never track their car the fun level is not what it should be. Sure one can mash the right pedal for that pressed into the seat feeling while watching the competition remain in the rear view. But that loses its magic after a few less than close competitions. That’s where the manual comes in and actually ups the fun factor up a quarter turn towards bliss.
Some backroad twisties hitting the perfect shift is what the ultimate driving machine is really about, the speed is low but the thrill is high- that’s what enthusiasts can look forward to when not taking in track days. It’s all a bit sad really, the M5 has gotten so good and lost so much of its abrasive edge, that outside of high speeds on the autobahn or track time, nailing shifts is where the driver’s true skill and fun comes in.
The M5 is still a fast luxurious machine, with the six speed manual it is just more fun and engaging.